In a survey carried out for World Book Day, 65% of people have claimed to read a book they never read. The real figure should be closer to 100% but some people insist on lying about lying, obviously.
Here are the books most lied about:
1. 1984 by George Orwell (42%)
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (31%)
3. Ulysses by James Joyce (25%)
4. The Bible (24%)
5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (16%)
6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (15%)
7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (14%)
8. Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (9%)
9. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (6%)
10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (6%)
Fascinating, isn’t it? I haven’t read 1984 either, and I’m pretty sure I’ve lied about it. I did see the movie and I have read several other books by George Orwell, but I’m still part of the guilty 42%.
I’m wondering why so many people lie about reading Stephen Hawking? I guess it depends on who you’re trying to impress. For example, I’d never lie about reading the Bible, because I have no claims to being religious. But to admit you’ve never read 1984 is to cast doubt upon your very worth as a thinker.
War and Peace is really long, so I get why people would rather pretend to have read it than to actually plunge in. But those of us who have read it can testify that it’s easy reading and very entertaining. Not at all like Moby Dick (which is my own Moby Dick, as I’ve stated elsewhere here.)
Same thing with Madame Bovary, which is a joy to read, even though its events are so devastating. I once read an interview with Linda Ronstadt, who claimed that her idols were Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. Now there’s a liar, unless she was feeling suicidal during the interview.
Is there anyone among us who hasn’t lied about reading a book? Personally, I’d have doubts about someone who claimed to have read every volume of Remembrance of Things Past. Swann’s Way put me to sleep, so “Proustian” for me is a synonym for relentlessly boring.
In an essay about this survey in the Telegraph, the writer acknowledges the difficulty of reading the Bible, from start to finish, noting that ‘Randolph Churchill famously did it for a bet, only to give up with the remark, “God, wasn’t God a ****?”
This was almost EXACTLY my own reaction when I once picked up a Bible, but I believe I called Him a ‘bastard.’ Not that I mind a disagreeable main character. I love Humbert Humbert, for example. I think lots of people pretend to have read Lolita, given how many people think there’s something prurient about it.
The 14% who pretended to have read Midnight’s Children really mystify me. Aren’t you supposed to say you’ve read The Satanic Verses?? I know I did.
Okay, so which books have you lied about reading, anyone?